In southern Duval County, two first-time candidates for public office are holding one of the most bruising Primary campaigns in the region.
Jessica Baker, an Assistant State Attorney in Florida’s 7th Circuit, appeared to have a clear path to the Republican nomination in House District 17, with backing from Mayor Lenny Curry, U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, state Senate President Wilton Simpson, state Reps. Wyman Duggan and Jason Fischer, and other aligned Republicans.
Baker’s path to leadership, for the moment at least, has been complicated by another political newcomer who emerged this spring with a compelling story and serious backing in her own right.
Christina Meredith, a National Guard member whose Christina Meredith Foundation advocates for disadvantaged children, filed weeks before qualifying, with backing from various Republican critics of Mayor Curry and Tim Baker, her rival’s political consultant husband.
The well-funded Jessica Baker had around $450,000 on hand when Meredith got in the race, but Meredith showed momentum in early fundraising, raising more than $93,000 in her first fundraising period. Mike Hightower and Jacksonville City Council member Randy DeFoor, two people who have soured on the Mayor’s Office, were among the major names in Meredith’s early fundraising report.
But that early momentum didn’t translate into parity down the stretch. As of Aug. 5, Baker held nearly $195,000 in cash on hand between her campaign account and her political committee, Friends of Jessica Baker. That was despite spending more than $55,000 from the two accounts in the same week, with most of the money spent on paid media.
Baker raised more than $570,000 for her campaign as of Aug. 5 and that money has been put to effective use, with ads contrasting her and Meredith, depicted as a “California liberal” out of touch with the district.
Meredith has had a fraction of the budget and has not been able to match spending.
Between her Fostering American Leadership political committee and her campaign account, Meredith had a little more than $22,000 on hand as of Aug. 5, after raising just $1,870 that week between the two accounts and spending just over $5,000 total in that week. Much of her campaign’s fire has aimed at Tim Baker as well as the Baker on the ballot.
Despite the resource gap, support has manifested for Meredith in other ways. Robin Lumb, who parlayed his former position as head of the Duval County Republican Party into seven years as Mayor Curry’s policy adviser, took over the Meredith campaign during the summer. He offered an emotional speech on her behalf at the most recent meeting of the party’s Republican Executive Committee, sources say.
The Baker side is confident in its strategy, and says it expects to win by a comfortable margin after all ballots are tallied Tuesday night. But just in case, some oppo dropped this week.
The race developed an 11th-hour narrative complication for Meredith when the Florida Voice website interviewed Meredith’s foster parents, who took issue with various claims made in the candidate’s memoir about her childhood.
The Meredith campaign disputed that account. They called on Jessica Baker to “repudiate the lies” in the article, which was promoted by a text link from the political committee First Coast Leadership, allied with the Baker campaign. That committee accepted over $142,000 in text services from another committee, Serious Conservatives, on July 29.
The HD 17 Primary is open to Republicans only, with Democrat Michael Anderson awaiting in the General Election.
The district will have a Republican advantage in November, if recent elections are predictive. Both Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis would have carried the district in their most recent elections, despite both of them failing to carry Duval County at large against their Democratic opponents.